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Train Derailment Kills 9 in Australia

January 31, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ A train full of college students and commuters derailed in a ravine south of Sydney on Friday, killing nine people and trapping dozens more for hours.

Some rescuers hiked over a mile of rugged terrain to get to the four double-decker cars that lay toppled on the side of the tracks. They used rocks to smash vandal-resistant windows made of reinforced glass.

Doctors and paramedics were lowered to the scene by helicopter and others were taken in by army troop carriers. All those trapped were freed by evening, though rescuers were still trying to get to two bodies, officials said.

Survivors and witnesses said people were screaming for help after the crash and bodies were strewn around the area.

``I could see the front carriage come in front, I could see it turn over, and the next minute I knew that we were all flipping over,″ Arnouska Zehalko, 21, told Sky News. ``Dust was everywhere, people yelling and screaming and asking for help, a big mess.″

Nine people were killed, New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr said. About 70 people were on the train when it derailed.

The train, heading out of Sydney, derailed while passing through the ravine near the village of Waterfall.

Police would not say what caused the crash, and a retired judge was appointed to lead an inquiry. Authorities recovered a black box, similar to an aircraft’s flight data recorder, from the wreckage.

The tracks were checked twice the day before the crash because temperatures had reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit. High temperatures can cause metal rails to bend.

However, the tracks were deemed safe, New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr said.

The train’s engineer was among those killed.

Television images showed the front of the lead car crumpled, apparently after hitting a steel electrical pole on the side of the tracks. The next car was damaged from crashing into the first.

The two rear cars were on their sides, but did not show major damage.

The train was traveling from Sydney to the steel town of Port Kembla when the accident happened at about 7:30 a.m.

Rescue workers said the train was likely traveling about 50 mph when it crashed. Many passengers were believed to be students heading to Wollongong University for enrollment day.

Nonee Walsh, an Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporter injured in the crash, said the train appeared to accelerate just before derailing.

``I may have been dozing but just south of Waterfall, the train seemed to just suddenly speed up to the point that the people in my carriage kind of looked up in alarm,″ she said. ``Then it appeared to hit a corner. There was a loud bang and we went over.″

Of the injured survivors, 45 people were admitted to hospitals. Two were in critical condition.

Update hourly